VOD film review: Café Society
Martyn Conterio | On 26, Dec 2016
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carrell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll
Watch Cafe Society online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Woody Allen’s 2016 Cannes opener, Café Society, is a wistful love story about a boy and girl who should be together but never will be. “Dreams are dreams,” Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) ruefully tells the big love of his life, Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart. For all that is amusing about Café Society – and it’s often very funny – the film is at heart a tragedy and a poignant reminder that sometimes things in life are just not meant to be and we have to accept it.
With Café Society, the balance between comedy and drama is sometimes oddly pitched. Allen’s ambition is twofold: to make us laugh and to make us cry. Does he succeed? Not quite. While Café Society (like Midnight in Paris, another of the director’s forays into the past) is chock-full of hilarious scenes and is unexpectedly moving, the third act peters out and fails to deliver an emphatic punch or knockout blow, something that would have edged the film into stronger and longer lasting territory.
A movie without a decent third act it might be, but there is still much to enjoy and savour in Allen’s initially zesty but ultimately bitter tale set in exclusive 1930s circles. The film contains some of the best Allen-penned zingers in years. (“Socrates said ‘the unexamined life isn’t worth living’. The examined one is no bargain.”) Stewart, in one scene, refers to Eisenberg’s loved-up Bobby as being “very sweet” and possessing a charming, “deer-in-the-headlights quality”. The best line, however, reads like a pessimistic aphorism: “Live each day as if it’s your last. One day, you’ll be right.”
Eisenberg and Stewart share a near-wondrous screen chemistry. Stewart is a fine actor really coming into her own – Bella Swann and Twilight seems so long ago now. As secretary to a powerful agent (Steve Carrell), Vonnie appears effervescent, sassy and knowing – a bohemian free spirit, slumming it as a working stiff. She tells Bobby how fake and phoney Hollywood is and how she’s not one for schmoozing with the stars. But looks and attitude deceive. Like all those ambitious souls clogging the pavements of Tinseltown, Vonnie is open to being seduced by the glitz and the glamour.
Eisenberg and Stewart sparkle together in a way rarely seen on the screen. Eisenberg’s buttoned up, repressed persona bounces well off Stewart’s attractive, but equally melancholic, aura. Is there any other actress around today who plays her characters as if they are the loneliest person in the whole wide world? In that regard, Kristen Stewart is the heir to Garbo.
Now, a word on the visuals. Allen’s aesthetic is various riffs on chocolate-box romanticism, but uniting with Italian cinematographer Vittoro Storaro, arguably the best cameraman in the history of cinema, they serve up a movie that looks good enough to eat. Café Society drips with honey and amber hues. The lighting is simply gorgeous: Hollywood’s golden age literally depicted as golden. Yet the seductive imagery belies a script with a sorrowful mandate. In an alternate universe, Bobby and Vonnie would have settled down into a life of bliss. But there’s no other world or universe but this one. Life is cruel and even the grandest of loves can be defeated.
Cafe Society is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
Cafe Society is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I buy or rent Cafe Society online in the UK?
Cafe Society is one of five films acquired by Amazon Studios that screened at Cannes 2016. For more of our Cannes coverage, click here.